Late last week, George and I drove to The Farm in MN from our permanent residence in IL. We set out on the five-hour road trip in order to celebrate first our anniversary, and then three days later, my birthday. We decided it would be fun to hold my birthday festivities near our youngest son Brian, his wife and our grandgirlies (3.5 and 1.5), who love to party with their Grannie B and Grandpa George. Or anyone.
After 39 years of marriage, you’d think we’d be better at getting ready to hit the road together. But instead, the usual happened: we yelled at each other while packing the car. George puts stuff in the car too early, even though I’ve spent 39 years asking him NOT TO DO THAT! I forget things and we have to go back home, even though he’s spent 39 years asking me if I have everything—and I always answer YES! For an engineer, he seems to harbor a block against the spatial concept of “nesting” items for tighter packing. For a creative type, I seem to harbor a great hostility when pointing this out to him. But in spite of ourselves, eventually we got Kornflake, our big red dog, in the back seat, and with a great exhausted sigh, we backed out (for the second time, after we had to return for whatever it was I forgot) and settled in for the drive. Since we were finally in Party Mode (once we got over the SCREAMING part), about half-way to our destination, we even veered off and enjoyed a short visit with friends who have been married a very long time, friends who know what married life is really like.
The next day was our anniversary. What to do? Brian told us about a band that was appearing at the historic Trempealeau Hotel in
Dinner reservations. Now there’s something we almost never do. We are decidedly your “extreme casual type”.
Since we’re old, we arrived a half-hour early. Yes, they could seat us anyway. Would we like to be out on the screen porch so we could see the river? You betcha! We ordered an hors d’ouevre (which we almost never do—and we highly recommend the walnut balls), a cup of soup, entrées (we never have a taste for the same thing), and we even split a dessert, something in which we almost never indulge.
But before we ordered, we experienced a SHOCKING FIRST, and it seems we had to be on the road together in order to do so. Hang on to your carry-ons: we sat on the same side of the table - next to each other! If you want to see a 6’2” man freeze, picture George staring at the placemats when the hostess set them down side by side. To be honest, it gave me pause, too. But, why wouldn’t we both want to have that terrific view facing the river? So I seated myself. After a moment, so did George. But it just felt so strange.
I noticed the couple at the table to our right were side-by-side, both facing the river, too, as were the couple to our left. I guess the assumption is: couples are comfortable this way, even if they’ve been married a billion years. Or, perhaps after a billion years together, it’s a relief not to face each other. Who knows.
“It’s our anniversary today,” I said to the gentleman to my right. “Thirty-nine years, and this is the first time we’ve sat on the same side of the table!” (I have no self control when I’m flabbergasted.)
“We do it all the time,” he said, gently smiling at his wife. “There’s no going back. You’ll love it!”
George did not look convinced. My jury was still out.
By the time we’d devoured half our hors d’ouevre, the couple to our left received their main course, each of their plates set before them on the same side of the table. It was then I witnessed a hostile break in this “no going back” new “norm.” As soon as the waitress disappeared, with a look of great relief, the man to our left moved himself, his placemat, his plate and his glass of wine across the table from his wife, river view be darned. His wife’s expression was hard to read since it was mostly hidden in her giant wine glass, which she seemed more intent on keeping to her lips once he moved. Read into that what you will.
I glanced sideways at George, waiting to see if he noticed, wondering if he’d be next to break ranks. But he did not. Not even after our meals arrived. All the way through dessert (warm cranberry cake with vanilla sauce—mmmmmmmm), side-by-side we sat, staring not into each other’s dreamy anniversary eyes, but at our food and the river.
When we were done with dessert and ready to move onto the next thing, George asked, “Do you have everything?”
“I think so,” I said.
We took my to-go box to the car and retrieved our lawn chairs. Time to set up camp (side by side, which was only sensible for this part of the evening) for the entertainment out under the stars. (See September 20.) Of course George liked the opening band best, while I preferred the headliner (oh, baby, I love a wailin' harmonica!); we are almost never on the same wavelength about anything. The ol’ Mississip rolled by in the background while we sat side by side and people watched—again not staring into each other’s dreamy anniversary eyes.
When we decided we’d had enough, we packed up our stuff (“Do you have everything?” “I think so,”) and headed back to The Farm. I yawned all the way, thinking, “What a lovely anniversary evening. Isn’t it funny what we had to go through to enjoy it? We had to yell at each other while packing the car (usual), drive five hours (usual), unload our stuff (usual), cross the river from MN to WI to go to the Historic Trempealeau Hotel (hardly ever), all in order to, for the very first time, sit on the same side of the table during dinner
Since I often travel alone, one of my favorite pastimes is people watching. I’ve always noticed and wondered about those couples who sat next to each other. They appeared so romantic, so pleased with themselves and each other. And now I know that perhaps it was their first time ever to do so too. Maybe they didn’t stay that way after I left and the main course arrived. Maybe they yelled at each other all the way home. Maybe they were just sick and tired of looking at each other. Maybe they never sit any other way, even at home. (Maybe it was a blind date and they were trying to impress each other.) I’ll never know.
But I do know this: for a few hours on a beautiful fall evening, we were those lovebirds. And it was Just Right.
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